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Alison Thomas explains how the Olympic

Games 2012 has helped inspire one Scottish school’s international links


WO MONTHS before the Olympic Games kick off in London, Bo’ness Academy near Falkirk will hold a special celebration of its own. The music department will provide

the opening ceremony, PE will organise the sporting activities, maths

will analyse the results, while the technical department will produce the medals and some of the stage props. Modern foreign languages will make a multilingual contribution and the event will be attended by visiting pupils and staff from schools in France, Germany and the Netherlands. For this is not just a local celebration. It will mark

the culmination of a two-year Comenius multilateral partnership, which has taken the Olympic Games as its theme and ambition as its defining goal. The project has been inclusive from the start in

September 2010, when each establishment held a whole-school competition to design a logo and the four winning designs were taken to France to be combined into one. At around the same time, Scottish fifth and sixth year art students created a torch out of sustainable materials to be carried from one partnership meeting to the next. Meanwhile, a group of younger pupils was

compiling an illustrated guide of Olympic sports, while another was charting the history of the Games. Like the logos, their contributions would later be amalgamated with those of their partners into a single piece of work. For Comenius co-ordinator and modern foreign

languages teacher, Laura Maden, the cross-curricular diversity of the project has been one of its strengths.

Union address: UNISON Support staff under attack

Christine Lewis reflects on the grave implications

of the recent Education Act for school support staff

ON NOVEMBER 15 last year, the Education Act 2011 received Royal Assent. With that passed the School Support Staff Negotiating Body (SSSNB) and the chance of a national pay and grading framework. This goes hand-in-hand with redundancies,

poorer pensions and a longer working life; a pay freeze at a time of five per cent inflation and a withdrawal of funding for training and development. For many staff, the final insult is the implicit denial of their professionalism and worth. So, what next? We have to return to the issues

that led to the establishment of the SSSNB in the first place. Top of the list with job evaluation is term-time working contracts, on which all but about 20 per cent are employed, and the acute sense of injustice that they create. It is the most significant sign of difference between teachers and the rest of the school workforce. Teachers receive an annual salary which reflects

their continuous employment and professional status, regardless of the 13 weeks when they do not have to attend school. It will be said that the employer is more than compensated for these weeks by excessive workloads during term-time that require attention outside of the school day. It is the unique nature of working time in schools and is accepted as reasonable. Many support roles also rely on working outside

of paid hours but receive no such consideration. UNISON Mori polls of local government employees consistently suggest unpaid overtime levels for school staff, second only to senior managers. The working year peculiar to schools also means that no staff can take holidays in term-time. Linked with low levels of pay and a basic 37-hour working week, which deems 90 per cent of support staff to

be part-time, the massive change in staff roles and the notion of the school team have still not triggered compensation. The injustice experienced is exemplified by pay

deductions for the industrial action on November 30 last year. While teachers have a national agreement that led to a wage reduction of 1/365th as a day’s pay, many support staff lost an actual hourly rate which was greater than that of teachers they work with who earn much higher salaries. The Education Act 2011 also introduced anonymity for teachers who are the subject of a complaint from pupils or parents. Support staff have no such protection even though the government’s own survey suggested that they too are vulnerable to accusations and more likely to be suspended. Are we “Goved out”? I think we are but all the

more reason to strengthen our resolve. Michael Gove appeared on television last November berating public sector workers for the pensions strike against working longer and paying more for less. The day after, UNISON received nearly 2,000 online applications, as opposed to 190 on the same day in the previous year. So instead of crying into our soup, we will recruit and build union organisation to better resist the ravages of government policy. We will also turn to sister teaching unions for support as our fates are inextricably linked. If support staff jump school or are pushed, the

whole workforce remodelling initiative will flounder as might preparation, planning and assessment time, while back will come the 24 administrative tasks, previously passed on. And what we will ask people to remember is that the quality of teaching and learning is dependent upon the skills and efforts of the entire workforce. While there is enormous dedication to the

education and welfare of young people, there has to be a limit to goodwill. And parents should think about the contribution that support staff make in school; who do they approach with a problem and how often their child talks about their teaching assistant? So when UNISON fights for the fair treatment

and even survival of support staff in schools, it does so for its members but also colleagues in other unions, pupils, their families and quality of education.

• Christine Lewis is head of education at UNISON. Visit

Olympic values

She explained: “Pupils are beginning to appreciate

that subjects don’t exist in isolation and that what they learn in one area can be transferred to another. It has also helped them to develop important work skills, such as teamwork and communication skills.” That has been especially true for those pupils who

have travelled abroad to exchange materials with their partners and work together on varied activities in mixed-age, multinational teams. Seventeen young people have gone out each time thanks to a fundraising drive which has supplemented the British Council grant to maximise pupil participation. The adults who have joined them have also covered a wide spectrum, from the deputy head to teachers and support staff,

drawn from those who have played a key role in project activities back home. One of these activities has been to produce a fitness

and cookery book containing recipes designed for a specific athlete. Another was to interview several athletes and record their responses for a joint CD. At Bo’ness, the latter assignment was incorporated into an open evening attended by parents, representatives from feeder primary schools and other members of the local community. The guests of honour were eight successful sportsmen and women, including two Olympic hopefuls, a Paralympic archer, and a former polar explorer, who delivered an inspiring motivational address. Why did you choose cycling? Did you ever consider

doing anything else? What type of diet would you recommend if I wanted to be an Olympic swimmer? How did you feel when you won your first medal? These were just some of the questions pupils put to their guests during a Q&A session before proceedings moved on to A Question of Sport panel game, a European food-tasting event, and the chance to mingle informally. As well as reaching into every corner of the

curriculum, the project has been an effective vehicle for developing core skills such as literacy. From composing invitation letters to the athletes to compiling reports of data analysis and putting together the illustrated guides, written work has covered a wide range of registers, while communicating verbally with non-native speakers has made pupils think carefully about how they express themselves, with the focus on simplicity and clarity. In addition, although the working language is English, it has brought home the value of learning a foreign language and many have been keen to try out

Comenius assistant

One of the less well known aspects of the Comenius programme is the opportunity it offers to employ a Comenius assistant, free of charge, to bring the reality of Europe into the classroom. A few years ago, Bo’ness Academy had an Italian assistant, who supported language

work for a previous Comenius project. Today they have Eleni from Greece, whose nationality ties in beautifully with the theme of their current partnership. Her contribution to school life has been exceptional. When she is not helping pupils

explore the history of the Olympics, she is explaining Greek myths in English classes or working with home economics students on healthy recipes and Greek cookery. She has introduced her country and language to a travel and tourism group and helped art students to make jewellery, as well as supporting an ASDAN course, a PE option group, an enterprise group and a global citizenship class. This term she began some outreach work in a primary school and started an after-school class in Greek for senior pupils and staff. Somehow she still finds time to help out in the pupil support base. Ms Maden said: “When we try to persuade her to take a break, she replies ‘but I want

to do it!’ and off she goes on her own initiative. She got herself into the pupil support base and does extra hours in art. Last term, she came in specially for the Christmas fair, although it fell on one of her days off, and stayed all day helping pupils and serving on one of the stalls. “Bo’ness is a small, insular community of around 30,000 inhabitants. Lots of people

have lived here all their days, and even someone from elsewhere in the UK is an outsider. So the pupils find it amazing to think that Eleni has come here way all the way from Greece! She has opened their eyes to the fact that there is a world beyond their immediate environment.”

Further information

The deadline for Comenius Assistant Host School applications is January 31, while Comenius School Partnership applications must be in by February 21. Visit

Ticket to ride: Students from Bo’ness Academy join peers from their link school in the Netherlands during a visit to Assen in the north of the country

their skills, even in those languages which they have never studied in class. Some modern foreign language classes have also

been communicating through penfriend links with the French and German schools, which Bo’ness first met through eTwinning, the online platform for schools that is part of the Comenius programme. Ms Maden is hoping to expand this by creating a TwinSpace, not just for her own department but for other subjects too, including biology and geography, which have linked up with the Dutch school on a separate project as a direct spin-off of the partnership. The project comes to an end in the summer, but it

will not be forgotten. In five years’ time, when most of the participants have moved on, their successors will open a German time capsule, exchanged in the early days of the project. They will read a newspaper from 2011, listen to a piece of music from that time, learn about the German school and the sports its pupils enjoyed, and see pictures of their town. They will reflect on the Olympic ideals and the value of international friendships.

SecEd • Alison Thomas is a freelance education journalist.

Further information Comenius and eTwinning are funded by the European Union and managed in the UK by the British Council. Sign up on eTwinning at and enter the Winter Draw at

Pedal power: Bo’ness Academy students cycling during a visit to the Netherlands


SecEd • January 12 2012

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